- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

Wake Forest basketball coach Skip Prosser died yesterday of an apparent heart attack in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 56.

Prosser was found slumped on his office couch and unresponsive by director of basketball operations Mike Muse shortly after returning from his noon jog, athletics director Ron Wellman said at a press conference last night.

Medical personnel performed CPR and used a defibrillator on Prosser, who was taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and pronounced dead at 1:41 p.m.

Affable and erudite, Prosser spent 14 years as a head coach at Loyola, Xavier and Wake Forest.

“He was a renaissance man coaching college basketball,” said Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan, who gave Prosser his first Division I job in 1993. “He was just unique. We’re not going to see his likes again. He just had a special gift.”

Prosser went 291-146 as a college coach and made nine NCAA tournament appearances. But he was just as well known throughout college basketball for his wit, wisdom and extensive vocabulary, all of which he employed regardless of his audience.

His style was a byproduct of a diverse background. A Pittsburgh native with tufts of blond hair, Prosser graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a degree in nautical science in 1972. He later spent more than a decade as a high school coach and history teacher before moving on to Xavier as an assistant.

While at Loyola, he would frequently swap quotes with Boylan, often preferring the insight of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“He would say, ‘Nothing worthwhile in life is ever done without enthusiasm,’ ” Boylan said. “When they were struggling in the ACC, it was Thomas Paine and Dickens — ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ and ‘These are the times that try men’s souls.’ He would talk to his team and drop in one of those things, and sometimes guys would think, ‘What is he talking about?’ Once they realized it, they saw he was trying to give them perspective.”

He remained close with several friends from his one season at Loyola, including lacrosse coach Dave Cottle. Now at Maryland, Cottle recalled Prosser as a “first-class human being.”

Skip could tell you things you didn’t like, but you still liked him; Not many people can do that,” Cottle said. “He had a great sense of humor. He understood athletics, and more importantly understood people. I’m sick for his family and his coaching staff and his kids. There’s a big void.”

Cottle would often visit Prosser after Wake Forest played at Maryland, but their friendship was cemented at Loyola. Prosser inherited a 2-25 team at a place thought to be a coaching graveyard. In response to the challenge, Cottle said Prosser placed a sign in his office that read, “You have to eat an elephant one bite at a time.”

The Greyhounds proceeded to go 17-13 and earn the school’s only NCAA tournament berth before Prosser left for a seven-year stint at Xavier.

Prosser then energized a sometimes tepid fan base at Wake Forest, helping to create “Tie Dye Nation” and sending fans of the occasionally overlooked Tobacco Road school into a frenzy with frenetic teams featuring future NBA stars Josh Howard and Chris Paul. He also earned the respect of his fellow coaches while revitalizing the Demon Deacons.

Maryland coach Gary Williams learned of Prosser’s death while recruiting in New Jersey.

“I think he always took everything as whatever came along, he could handle it,” said Williams, who like Prosser is a former high school coach. “He won the league regular-season championship three years ago and last year they struggled a little bit. He was the same. He was never any different in terms of how he was. … He was one of the good guys.”

Wake Forest reached the regional semifinals in 2004, then was a fixture in the top 10 the next season before a stunning second-round loss to West Virginia. Prosser’s team missed the NCAA tournament the last two seasons, and this year’s 15-16 mark was his first losing record since 1995-96.

Yet he will be remembered more for his on-court success and greater still for his keen insight on a wide array of issues.

“The game was, I think, so much better that he was in it,” Boylan said. “He was as competitive as they get, he was feisty, but at the end of the day he had everything in perspective.”

Prosser is survived by his wife, Nancy, and two sons, Scott and Mark.

c The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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